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  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:



(Specific Phobia; Simple Phobia)


A phobia is an intense fear of an object or situation. There are 3 main groups of phobias:

  • Agoraphobia—Fear of being trapped in places or situations that could be hard to escape
  • Social phobia—Fear of social situations and being judged by others
  • Specific phobia—Fear of a specific object or a situation

Treatment can help people with phobias.


The cause of phobias is not known. Genetics, the environment, and stressors may play a role.

Risk Factors

Phobias are more common in women. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Having a parent, sibling, or child with a phobia
  • Going through a stressful event, such as trauma or illness


Symptoms happen when a person is exposed to the object or situation that they fear. The fear may become more intense if the person cannot easily get away from it.

Mental health problems may be:

  • Intense feelings of panic and worry when exposed to the phobia
  • Fear of getting hurt, losing control, going crazy, or dying
  • Feelings of unreality or being detached from one's body
  • Knowing that the fear is not normal, but not being able to control the reaction
  • Wanting to flee from the fear or taking extreme steps to avoid it
  • A fear that gets in the way of daily activities

Physical problems may be:

  • Racing, pounding, or skipped heartbeats
  • Problems breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Sweating
  • Lightheadedness, feeling faint
  • Nausea
  • Tingling or numbness in parts of the body
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Shaking
Physical Effects of Anxiety.

Physiological effects of anxietyhttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=80788078BN00073_clear text.jpgPhysiological effects of anxietyNULLjpgPhysiological effects of anxietyNULL\\hgfiler1\intellect\images\BN00073_clear text.jpgNULL19NULL2010-06-012794008078_638466Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. This is often enough to make the diagnosis. Tests are not needed.


The goal of treatment is to ease symptoms and improve quality of life. More than 1 treatment may be needed. Options are:
  • Therapy, such as:
    • Exposure therapy—to confront one's fear in a planned and controlled way
    • Relaxation techniques—to ease panic and anxiety
    • Cognitive-behavioral therapy—to learn ways to change beliefs and thoughts surrounding the fear
  • Medicines, such as:
    • Antidepressants
    • Anti-anxiety medicines


There are no current guidelines to prevent phobias.





  • Agoraphobia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/agoraphobia.
  • Eaton WW, Bienvenu OJ, Miloyan B. Specific phobias. Lancet Psychiatry. 2018 Aug;5(8):678-686.
  • Overview of anxiety disorders. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/anxiety-and-stressor-related-disorders/overview-of-anxiety-disorders.
  • Phobias. Mental Health America website. Available at: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/phobias. Accessed September 4, 2020.
  • Social anxiety disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/social-anxiety-disorder.
  • Specific phobia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/specific-phobia.


  • Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.